HARTFORD, CT — In anticipation of a robust debate on whether Connecticut should eliminate religious exemptions for childhood vaccines, five experts spoke in favor and against the exemption at a three-hour forum Friday.
Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, who co-chairs the Public Health Committee, said his constituent, Jessica Cadieu and her husband organized the panelists, which included three scientists who are skeptical about vaccines and the testing they’ve undergone, and two who believe vaccines are safe and support the idea of removing the religious exemption.
“We’re here today as part of an ongoing process to better understand the vaccine issue,” Steinberg said.
However, it was abundantly clear by the end of the three hours that lawmakers were still struggling with the issue.
Both sides were able to make a case for why they felt either the religious exemption is necessary because it gives parents choice, or it should be eliminated because public health is at risk.
“When it comes down to calling people ignorant that they’re just not looking at the science, it just makes things look bad for both sides,” Rep. Phil Young, D-Stratford, said. “I mean, whose data am I supposed to support? You’re just as fervent and you’re just as fervent.”
Young said it seems like one side of the issue can come up with as many studies as the other side of the issue.
“I’m just a public servant that’s trying to do what’s best for the state,” Young said.
The panelists who spoke against removing the religious exemption are controversial for their opposition to vaccines.
“When people say the science is settled and they’re safe— it’s absolutely false,” said Shiva Ayyadurai, a scientist and inventor who holds four degrees from MIT and lives in Massachusetts. “The science is not settled and anyone who claims it is, is not a scientist.”
Amy Pisani, a leading authority in vaccine advocacy, said National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, came out with a statement this year that vaccines are safe.
“True. Vaccines are extremely safe. They have many health benefits and few side effects,” the front page of their website reads.
Ayyadurai pointed out they also said there’s “much to learn about the human immune system, autoimmunity and the effects of genetic variation, all of which may influence how people respond to vaccines.”
He said in spite of what we don’t know, there was no attempt to correct the assertion that vaccines are safe.
“People are asserting statements, which are absolutely false,” Ayyadurai said. “They’re lying.”
Dr. Stacy Taylor, a family physician from Torrington, believes its time to get rid of the religious exemption.
“How did polio get eradicated if vaccines don’t protect everyone?” Taylor, whose brother died from polio, asked the scientists on the other side of the issue.
Taylor said she never tells patients vaccines are 100% safe. They do have risks and side effects and patients should be informed.
“I believe there has to be a balance between the common good and the individual rights,” Taylor said. “We do have to look at herd immunity and the lack of herd immunity and how it does protect or doesn’t protect people.”
She said maybe in the future there will be better methods to prevent terrible diseases that kill people.
“We can ask all we want about what vaccines are doing to people,” Taylor said. “Other than protecting them from deadly diseases, but those are hypothetical. All the studies have been positive so far. Vaccines can kill people, yes, just as cars kill people.”
Steinberg questioned the New York doctor who blamed vaccines for any number of things from autism and learning disabilities to seizures.
“Individual differences have always been a weak spot in medicine,” Steinberg said. “It is not a precise science because we all react differently.”
But there are over 80,000 chemicals that have been introduced into our foods and environment “that have never been evaluated,” Steinberg said. He asked why would vaccines be causing all these health problems and not those 80,000 chemicals.
Dr. Lawrence Palevsky said there’s a difference between eating and breathing something into the body as opposed to injecting it.
“We’re finding the aluminum that’s in vaccines does perpetuate in the body,” Palevsky said.
He said vaccines are responsible for causing inflammation in the body, but all of the diseases that are chronic are due to chronic inflammation.
“Do vaccines keep causing inflammation once the acute stage is over? There are no studies to look at the biochemistry of that question,” Palevsky said.
Earlier this year the Department of Public Health reported there were 149 schools in Connecticut with herd immunity levels below the 95% recommended by Centers for Disease Control. That’s 40 more schools than last year.